ECBC Scientists Demonstrate STEM Careers to Incoming Freshman

Biologists show Bel Air High School students opportunities in laboratory research

CCDC Chemical Biological Center Public Affairs | August 8th, 2017

ECBC Scientists Demonstrate STEM Careers to Incoming Freshman

Edgewood Chemical Biological Center biologist Janet Betters assists a student during a hands-on experiment on “strange liquids” during the Bel Air High School Freshman Camp.

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, MD - Incoming students at Bel Air High School in Harford County got an early start to their high school careers by participating in an interactive career fair on Aug. 2 with STEM professionals from the local business community, including U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) biologists Janet Betters and Rushyannah Killens-Cade.

The Bel Air High School Freshman Camp is an introduction for incoming freshman enrolled in the school’s Biomedical Sciences Program. The program exposes students to STEM professionals working in various medical and scientific fields. The aim is for students to develop an early interest in a specific STEM career. The students’ expressed interests ultimately lead to internships during the junior or senior year during which they’ll conduct research in their prospective career fields, according to Michael Burke, lead teacher for the Biomedical Sciences Program at Bel Air High School.

“This camp will be their first event as high school students,” Burke said. “As such, it is one of the more powerful experiences they will have while at Bel Air High.”

Out of approximately 70 students enrolled in the program for the upcoming school year, 54 students participated in the camp, which was voluntary, he said.

Four, 30-minute sessions were held with STEM professionals. Students rotated between each speaker in small-group sessions which allowed the students to interact with the guest speakers.

“We’re excited that there’s a solid representation of local employers here such as ECBC,” Burke said. “We’re happy to have the laboratory workers from ECBC to show the students that there are more career opportunities in the lab outside of the medical field.”

Betters, a biologist in the Biosensors Branch of the Biosciences Division at ECBC, has worked at the center for 16 years and has been a volunteer in ECBC’s STEM outreach program for a decade. “Janet has done STEM activities in the classrooms from elementary through high school levels,” said ECBC STEM Outreach Coordinator Casey Weininger. “She frequently speaks at career fairs, like this camp, when we’re asked by the schools if we can participate.”

Betters incorporated a hands-on experiment on “strange liquids,” liquids that don’t follow Newton’s Laws of Motion, into her presentation. The students were able to get their hands into a gooey cornstarch-based substance, which looked like a liquid but acted like a solid.

She explained to the students that ECBC is researching new materials made of similar non-Newtonian liquids which will be put in protective clothing for the warfighters. “I didn’t want to just talk about myself,” she said. “It was more important to get them involved and give them an idea of the work that we do.”

As the parent of an area middle school student, Betters said she wanted to educate the students on the opportunities available at ECBC, starting in high school, so they can begin preparing now to enter a career path that will lead them to full-time ECBC employment after college. “We love to see the high schoolers come to ECBC,” she said. “It really sets them up nicely for their careers.”

A postdoctoral research fellow, Killens-Cade has been working as a microbiologist at ECBC for two years, continuing her focus on researching new antibodies.

Participating in her first ECBC STEM activity, Killens-Cade also emphasized to the students the importance of participating in high school and college programs that ECBC offers. “Find as many summer programs as you can and apply,” she said. “The opportunities are out there. Networking will be important to your career growth.”

Killens-Cade did not have to look far to give them an example of networking. Accompanying her to the event was one of her interns, Andrew Marinich, who graduated from the Biomedical Sciences Program at Bel Air High School in 2014. Now a senior at St. Mary’s College, Marinich has been working as a paid research student at ECBC every summer in college after completing a mentorship at ECBC in high school.

“Four years ago, I was sitting where you guys are and now I’m an intern at ECBC, so it does happen,” Marinich told the campers. “The things you do in this classroom are the things people do at ECBC. There are real opportunities you can take to the next level.”

The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Chemical Biological Center (CCDC Chemical Biological Center) is the Army’s principal research and development center for chemical and biological defense technology, engineering and field operations. The Center has achieved major technological advances for the warfighter and for our national defense, with a long and distinguished history of providing the armed forces with quality systems and outstanding customer service. The CCDC Chemical Biological Center is located at the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.